Sometimes well-oiled machines are taken for granted

September 22, 2020

Nearly 20 years ago in January 2001, an earthquake registering 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated El Salvador’s city of Santiago de Maria.

More than 4,500 families lost homes in the then-city of 36,000 and developed makeshift shelters out of cardboard, tents and blankets.

Aftershocks followed and a month to the day later, a second earthquake (registering 6.6) shook the city and nation again — while Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were cleaning up from the first quake.

That was my first experience with an earthquake. It also was my first time to wear an N95 mask and serve as an embedded reporter. Lots of firsts on that assignment but the opportunity to dig in deep with volunteers from Disaster Relief’s “Yellow Shirt Army” helped me truly understand the difference made through this ministry.

The late Tommy Puckett, then head of DR for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, encouraged me to learn everything I could about DR and sent me to the state training one year to make sure I did.

He put me in every course — even chainsaw, but only to observe (whew!) — so I could gain insight into each role. He also spent time explaining concepts, strategies and protocols.

Before long, I understood each part of the whole and the connection between volunteers, churches, associations, state conventions, and at that time the North American Mission Board.

A few aspects have adapted through the years, but the heart and soul of “giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name” has remained the same.

And TAB’s commitment to and partnership in telling the DR story continues.

Mark Wakefield, who currently leads Alabama’s DR efforts, works diligently to keep our coverage teams educated and informed about DR deployments such as what you will read about on pages 1, 8 and 9.

Mel Johnson, who led Alabama’s DR efforts before becoming lead mission strategist for Autauga Association, also helped TAB staff members covering DR learn the terminology and the difference of trained and untrained volunteers.

DR volunteers don’t just show up and figure out what to do on the spot. They are well trained for specific assignments, and deployments are made through an orderly system. Each volunteer knows exactly what he or she will do — it’s an incredibly efficient system.

Along with the mentorship and partnership from our state’s DR leaders, it was the guidance of TAB editor emeritus Bob Terry that grew us into a team able to consistently and thoroughly share the DR story.

Dr. Terry led our young team through coverage of the April 1998 tornado outbreak, taught us how to cover cleanup efforts as well as capture the emotions attached to such loss, and how to do it all in a timely fashion.

The 2001 assignment in El Salvador resulted in a six-page feature in the next issue of TAB showcasing a variety of interviews and photos telling the story of Santiago de Maria, its people and the DR effort.

By Jennifer Davis Rash

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